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City, county, schools brace for budget strafing

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The City of Morris, Stevens County and the Morris Area School District are all making budget plans based on worst-case senarios coming from St. Paul.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's recent budget proposal would create significant budget holes for the city and county, and even while the school district isn't slated for formula reductions, it is planning for a substantial budget cut for next year.

Stevens County's County Program Aid is to be cut by more than $254,000 under the governor's budget. Adding that to Pawlenty's unallotment for 2010 of almost $138,000, the county would receive about $562,000. It was scheduled to receive $954,000 in CPA, said County Coordinator Jim Thoreen.

"That's (Pawlenty's) starting point," Thoreen said. "Now, we'll see what the Democrats do in the Legislature."

The City of Morris' Local Government Aid would be reduced by $292,000. When added to $261,000 already cut, the city is out about $553,000 for 2010. Combined, the cuts total about 16 percent of the city's budget, said City Manager Blaine Hill.

"Our biggest fear is that they're not going to stop there," Hill said. "Where do we come up with $300,000 to take out of our budget?"

The city already has cut at least 5 percent from many city services, equipment purchases have been delayed, and Hill said the new cuts, if enacted, may require layoffs.

Between Dec. 2008 and Dec. 2010, the city will have lost about $793,000, he said.

"That's a massive amount of money," Hill said. "We can't absorb that much money. It's unfair to balance the budget on the backs of cities and counties. The idea (that lawmakers have) that we have to do a better job spending our money is assinine. We're not the problem."

Thoreen has said often in recent months that he foresees the state's -- and county's and city's -- budget problems compounding in coming years.

"It's no surprise that with all the red ink flowing at us, the day will come when we will lose all of it (local state aid)," he said. "It won't be there. We've been nicked and cut all along the way. Soon it will all be gone, I'm confident of that."

Pawlenty's budget didn't call for funding reductions for school districts, but he already is behind payment delays that have put districts in a pinch with regards to cash flow.

At the Morris Area School Board's regular meeting this week, Superintendent Scott Monson presented a preliminary budget overview for 2011 that shows a projected deficit of more than $193,000. The district voted to direct Monson to develop proposals that include program and personnel cuts to balance the budget.